Build a Batt Box – May/June 2015 – Shipwreck!

The theme for BarberBlackSheep’s Build a Batt Box May/June 2015 is

Shipwreck!

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When I first did the Shipwreck colour way a couple of months ago on a yak/silk base I was thinking of the iconic images of the wreck of RMS Titanic, the “unsinkable” ship that famously hit an iceberg on her maiden voyage and sank in 1912 with tremendous loss of life. The wreck was discovered in 1985 by a team headed by Robert Ballard from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. As a child I was fascinated by the article later published in National Geographic Magazine and talking to my grandmother she remembered hearing about it on the wireless as small girl because it was so appalling a disaster (this being a couple of years before The First World War which quickly overtook her life rather tragically).

For this BaBB I knew I could draw on similar colours and images but I was at a loss as to how gain suitable photographs to use with my fibre images – clearly I couldn’t use other copyright images (although you can view some of the inspirations on my Pinterest board if you’d like to). And equally obvious was the fact that I couldn’t just pop down underwater and take a few snaps! So I gave it a little more lateral thought and as I was scheduled to be in Anglesey again for a few days I turned my thoughts there.

Anglesey, or Ynys Mon in Welsh – the island sitting on the North-West coast of Wales – is rich in many ways. It has achingly beautiful scenery and a wealth of natural fauna and flora, both terrestrial and marine. The geology of the island is of great scientific interest as well as being fascinating to the amateur observer and it is steeped in history, not only of the comparatively recent history of the past 1,000 years where Wales struggled to retain independence from the English Crown and of internecine Welsh feudal wars but also of ancient prehistory stretching back several thousand years to preChristian times. In the present day it is also plays host to holiday-makers who troop there in their thousands to take advantage of the amazing land and seascape for outdoor pursuits.

The coast of the United Kingdom is known for having some of the greatest tidal rips in the world, the tide can rise and fall in places by 20ft and creates huge currents and tides and Anglesey has its share of this. This is exhilarating for those with the skills to take advantage of them but combined with the unpredictable Welsh weather can make the coast a dangerous place if you get caught out. Over the course of history many unfortunate ships have come to grief around it’s coastline, particularly in the 19th century. Those who make their living from the sea have sought to make dangerous shores safer, from pilots with local intimate knowledge of the coastal shelf and sea floor, lighthouses and beacons to warn of dangerous coasts, markers and buoys at sea.

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And in more recent time the invaluable bravery of rescue services such as the life boats of RNLI, the armed services RAF Search and Rescue teams and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

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Despite this, lives are still lost at sea. But this past weekend I decided to focus on walking the coasts near, and reflect on, two 19th C wrecks, one with no loss of human life and the other with tragic loss.

Just a few hundred yards from the cottage where my great-Grandfather spent the last years of his life is the bay where the wreck of SS Missouri rests.

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Below these waves, the largest wreck on Anglesey lies in shallow water on the seabed broken into several pieces. It’s a very popular wreck for divers due to its easy access and lack of currents. I’d never been here before despite hearing about the area from family members so it was doubly interesting to me to visit and walk the headlands and beaches.

SS Missouri was a former cotton carrying ship but was carrying several hundred cattle from America when it ran aground in 1886 in a terrible snowstorm. The crew were rescued but a large number of the animals on board were drowned when it sank.

I found this video of diving the Missouri online – the visibility is variable in this area but it’s still interesting to see below the surface.

Wrecks are a great place for marine life, they form an artificial reef to take up residence in, to hide in and to hunt from and for marine plants to anchor themselves too which is another reason wrecks are so popular with divers. I also found this gorgeous footage from a little further South round the coast, not on a wreck but I’ll include the link to the page so you can see just what’s down there! (you have to click on the play icon to start it)

Last weekend I took a break from my work to drive over to the east coast of the island so as to walk part of the Anglesey Coastal Path and visit the site of the most tragic wreck in the island’s history.

On a stormy night in October 1859, disaster overtook the steam clipper Royal Charter. She was returning from the gold fields of Melbourne, Australia laden with a staggering amount of gold nuggets and gold dust as well as cargo of wool and other items and many passengers on board. As with Titanic, a certain amount of hubris seems to have been involved. Whereas the Titanic was claimed to be unsinkable, the Royal Charter had a reputation to maintain as being one of the fastest ships of its time. Despite the hazy atmosphere and windy conditions as they crossed from Ireland to Britain the captain was of course unaware of the enormity of the tremendous storm brewing up and he decided not to take shelter in the safety of Holyhead Harbour but press on to Liverpool – the final few hours of a journey that had taken a record 59 days.

As they rounded the coast of Anglesey suddenly 100mph gusts of wind beat down on them from the North and despite the attempts to stop the ship from running aground, the crew and ship were powerless against what was reputed to be the worst storm of the 19th century. They cut loose the masts and rigging and threw them into the sea and dropped anchors but eventually their anchors broke and the increasing winds swept them onto a sandbank.

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In the dark and swell despite being just a few yards from shore, rescue was almost impossible. In the dim light of breaking dawn though, a brave Maltese seaman aboard swum ashore with a rope so as to sling a bosun’s chair to rescue some of the people on board and the equally brave folk of Moelfre who saw the intact but beached ship, ran to raise the alarm and turned out in some numbers to attempt a rescue from land. But sadly the tide was rising and lifted the ship from where it lay and smashed it against the rocks. Very few of the passengers that spilled from the broken ship made it safely to shore and of the 490 passengers only 40 men survived the tragedy and none of the women or children who had been sent to wait below deck whilst the men fixed the rescue lines so as to prevent them being swept overboard by the waves breaking over the ship…

In the days that followed, the sad recovery of bodies washing up on shore took place. The local clergymen were overwhelmed with the sheer numbers of dead filling their graveyards and the task of writing to and comforting the bereaved. Also overwhelmed was the person appointed Receiver of Wreck as the fabulous wealth of gold carried on the Royal Charter turned up onshore in the following days and in the clothing on the bodies of the dead which proved a tremendous draw to those eager to salvage from such rich pickings. Although sadly the good brave folk of Moelfre were unjustly accused of plundering the dead whereas in reality they had risked their own lives to try to save even a few hapless gold diggers from the waves. Some weeks later, Charles Dickens came in his capacity as a journalist to interview those involved in the rescue and as so often happens when tragedy strikes the whole area was greatly affected by the events and a memorial to the dead was set up overlooking the bay.

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Walking here a few days ago on a hazy, calm Spring day it’s hard to imagine just how terrifying the waves can be although I’ve seen for myself some the awesome power of the sea when tormented by wind. Strolling along the coastal path heady with the scent of gorse and looking out to sea it was hard to equate the peace and tranquility of the coast with the horror and death in the same place more than 150 years before.

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Wrecks however were so common here that a shelter was set up on an island in the bay next door at Lligwy and Dulas and kept stocked with food and supplies so that anyone lost at sea in the bay and had the relative good fortune of being washed up on its shores had at least some chance of survival whilst awaiting rescue once the storm had abated rather than die a lingering death of exposure and hypothermia in a time where rescuers did not have the skills, technology and equipment available to us today and that perhaps we’re in danger of taking for granted whilst out in pursuit of recreation around the coast.

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As I reached the point of my walk where I planned to turn round at Traeth Lligwy I came upon this rustic graffiti painting of the seascape, set up on the coast with the vista that inspired it visible beyond.

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Although I’ve enjoyed many trips out at sea sailing, fishing and rowing as well as travelling on large ferries to Ireland and France, I’ve never felt truly at ease with the power of the ocean nor how its deceptively tranquil face can transform so quickly into one of the greatest powers in the natural world. Dwelling on the humanity of the Royal Charter and its loss I was grateful to be walking on terra firma with the tide safely low and with a good few hours before it came racing inland along the flats of the beach. I trod carefully along the sandy beach stopping to look at the rocks formed 400 million years before when Wales sat below the equator and marvelled at the cracked rusty yellow rocks formed by drying mud flats in a desert so unlike the chilly coast today…

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…and along stony beaches with curious aerated “pumice-like” stones and awash with empty blue mussel shells. I was happy to stoop and touch the ground and stop to look around and savour the day.

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In a quirk of fate, since I’ve been home I looked up some information in my father’s cousin’s autobiography which includes details of the area to check some facts regarding the cottage my great-Grandfather (his Grandfather) lived in and the words “Royal Charter” caught my eye. In researching his other family line unconnected to our mutual one, he found that his paternal Great Grandfather was a gold digger who met with great success in Australia – finding a famously vast nugget of gold. He was due to return from another gold seeking trip on the fated 1859 Royal Charter voyage but fortuitously for him he was unable to do so and thus almost certainly avoided losing his life.

So there you have “Shipwreck!”, a study in blue and gold. I hope that you find it as interesting as I did this past weekend as I searched for something to anchor this theme into. The hand dyed fibre that make up the box include the usual wools included; merino tops and hand dyed BFL.

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A hand carded batt of sea blue and green flecked with hints of glittering gold and hand dyed blue alpaca.

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And the usual selection of mostly hand dyed fibres; tussah silk, silk noil, tencel, soysik, faux cashmere, bamboo, ramie and firestar.

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The first boxes will go on sale this evening at 7pm BST at BarberBlackSheep on Etsy.

 Will you find gold in yours…?

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4 thoughts on “Build a Batt Box – May/June 2015 – Shipwreck!

  1. Having read this only after receiving my box, I’m almost overwhelmed by the stories you have retold here and I know that when I get the box out to play with on Sunday, whatever I create will be inspired as much by this blog post as it will be by the fibres I can hold in my hands.

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